Cancer is an ugly side effect of an individual’s habits, environment and DNA. For instance, the American Lung Association states roughly 415,000 people have received a lung cancer diagnosis in their lifetime and it caused 1.6 million deaths in 2012. Luckily, researchers are gaining important knowledge on how cancers develop and progress with the help of advancing technology. This is allowing doctors to take new approaches to preventing and screening cancer as well as managing early-stage diseases. Early detection and diagnosis can be the difference between life and death for many cancer patients. In fact, the American Cancer Society stated that when lung cancer is caught in the earliest stages, the mortality rate is far lower. Highlighted below are several ways technology is helping doctors detect cancer.
With emerging technology, doctors can also determine your risk for cancer. For example, the BREVAGenplus is a clinically validated test that combines clinical risk factors with a person’s genetic makeup to determine their risk for breast cancer. Based on results, doctors can develop an individualized screening plan that has the most effective timeline for monitoring ongoing breast health.
For many years, x-ray mammography has been done on film, but several companies are now using storing the images digitally which allows for doctors to enlarge and manipulate the image on a computer screen without ordering new x-rays to be taken. Digital mammograms are also able to use computer-aided detection (CAD) systems which use a computer program to recognize patters in images that might be malignancy. Once a pattern is detected, the radiologist can examine the suspicious area more carefully. Several studies suggest CAD can improve a radiologist’s ability to detect and classify breast abnormalities.
Breast tissue density disrupts the reading of x-ray mammography. Radiologists have an 80 percent chance of finding a tumor in a fatty breast but as little as 40 percent in dense breast. This is why Deborah Rhodes, the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program Director, and several colleagues developed a new screening technique called molecular imaging. The patient is injected with a radio tracer that is then read using a gamma camera which detects tumors lodged in the dense tissue. In a study, the molecular imaging found 83 percent of tumors while digital mammography only found 25 percent. While this technology has been FDA approved, it is still being tested and has not become widely available.
A British tech firm has created a DNA analyzer that is the size of a smartphone. Q-Poc is currently in alpha testing, but the product is suppose to accurately diagnose everything from cancer to infectious diseases in a matter of minutes. The device runs on a solar-powered battery that is designed to read biological samples on a credit card sized cartridge. This innovation could revolutionize healthcare by analyzing the DNA pathogens rather than the proteins in the sample. The company hopes to have the product in production by early 2018.
Doctors are now able to analyze the mutated genome of the tumor and tell whether a cancer will be sensitive to a certain chemotherapy or whether it will not respond to current treatments. By knowing the subtype of cancer, doctors can better choose the right treatment even if that means joining a clinical trial. For example, in leukemias, scientists have determined the growth is controlled by a protein called Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK). After many years of research, they have developed a drug that blocks BTK while leaving the rest of the immune system alone. Two studies in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the new drug helped 68 percent of patients with a type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Doctors are working on an alternative to chemotherapy, because chemo drugs destroy cells that quickly multiple whether they’re cancerous or healthy causing multiple side effects. The new immunotherapy cancer vaccines train the immune system to use its antiviral fighting systems to respond to cancer cells without harming the healthy cells. The FDA has already approved these vaccines for treatment in prostate cancer and melanoma. Researchers are now trying to pair up the new and old vaccines to better fight the cancerous cells.
While not every screening and drug trial will be practical to implement or work to fight cancer, doctors will continue to use advancing technology to their advantage. With continued education and commitment doctors will be able to improve the outcomes of early screening endeavors and eventually save lives.